Anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time on social media knows what a double-edged sword it can be. Platforms like Instagram can be eye-opening, engaging, and just fun—who doesn’t love a good dog or meme account?
But it’s also true that social media doesn’t always bring out our most genuine selves. Scrolling through Instagram can be like watching a parade of literally picture-perfect moments. Somewhere amidst your double-tapping, you might have experienced how powerfully social media can influence the way we view and feel about ourselves. Why isn’t my life that amazing all the time?
“Seeing others’ curated polished images of only happy moments or attractive photos can set up an unrealistic expectation of ourselves and the destructive experience of constantly comparing oneself with others,” Christine Moutier, M.D., practicing psychiatrist and chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), tells SELF. “When people use social media heavily, in a way that’s out of balance with other activities or time with loved ones in person, it can actually lead to feeling disconnected and isolated, in addition to inadequate,” Dr. Moutier explains, especially among those of us already dealing with low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression.
So, is it possible to use social media to enhance our mental health?
We often hear the advice that if you want to truly tend to your mental health, stay off social media. But that advice isn’t always fun or realistic, so we can’t be alone in hoping there’s a better tactic out there. That’s why we’re excited to hear that Instagram partnered with the AFSP on a new campaign launching today called #RealConvo. The goal: to foster more authenticity on social media and IRL.
The #RealConvo campaign aims to inspire and empower us to share our less-than-perfect moments, openly discuss mental health, and forge supportive communities based on who we really are. It kicks off today with a grid takeover on the @AFSPnational Instagram channel featuring nine influencers who are already using Instagram as a platform for these genuine conversations—including Pretty Little Liars actress Sasha Pieterse Sheaffer and Donte Colley, who makes uplifting dance videos to inspire positive mental health.
Here’s how a few Instagram influencers are using their feeds to foster more authentic conversations.
Vivian Nunez, for instance, uses social media to make sharing tough experiences the norm, beginning with herself. After the death of her mother and grandmother, Nunez started writing online about her grief, anxiety, and depression, and started @2damnyoung, a community for young people who’ve lost a loved one.
“Instagram has been a space I turn to frequently as a safe place to talk about hard things,” Nunez tells SELF. Nunez says being vulnerable on social media helped her feel less alone. “My posts and the community I’ve accumulated along the way help remind me (and each other) that we’re not the only ones living through hard things,” she says. For example, Nunez connects with other people on social media who get how hard Mother’s Day can be for someone who’s lost their mom, “or how important it is to talk about therapy openly so it’s not taboo.”
She joined the #RealConvo campaign because it “makes it permissible and approachable to turn away from just the highlight reel of content, and instead shed more light [on] how real conversations aren’t too much for social,” she explains. “They are just another point of connection with a bigger community.”
Trans model and actress Jari Jones has found a community and sense of connection on social media she didn’t have growing up.
“Growing up black, trans, and plus size in a very narrow, cookie-cutter town, I wasn’t the most popular or respected among my peers,” Jones tells SELF. “Social media later allowed me to find community outside the one I lived in, and eventually empowered me to live as my most authentic self.”
She’s hopeful that #RealConvo will help give young people the tools and support to talk about their individual struggles and mental health needs—something that she needed as a teen. “It is our duty to take care of each other on and off line, and make sure we are protecting those who are most targeted, most marginalized,” Jones explains: Young people, trans people, queer people, disabled people, people of color, and “anyone who doesn’t fit the status quo.”
Let’s make social media a space to share meaningful conversations—not just filtered photos and perfect captions.
Whether you’re an influencer like Nunez or Jones or not, being real on social media fosters a culture and community that “is a powerful game changer for mental health,” Dr. Moutier says. “When we take the risk to share something deeper about our life”—be it a mental health condition, the trauma we’ve been through, or just the fact that we’re having a really bad day—”it lets other people know they’re not alone,” Dr. Moutier explains.
And when met with caring support, these shows of greater authenticity can help clear out stigma and create space for deeper conversations and connections, both online and in real life.
“Through our encouragement, we can help make a world in social media where we are all supported,” Dr. Moutier says. “It is not an understatement to say that opening up and having real conversations about mental health, whether on social media or in real life, has the potential to save lives.”